Review by ramsiverse

"Not scary. Just fun."

Remember Resident Evil? I feel fortunate for having played it when it came out, when survival was the goal and anxiety was your partner. I've been a fan ever since, and watched as the series has mutated and spawned.

Now Resident Evil is a business. Being successful from the beginning, there are now dozens of RE games over numerous consoles. In many ways, the fifth game feels like a business decision, what with all the additional content and its similarities to its successful predecessor. The series has changed, a fact obvious to the loyal army of RE fans. The horror is gone, but the series had to evolve. Doing so meant a new camera, challenging enemies, and new locations, all of which was integral in the original's “horror experience”. They could have changed the name of RE4 to, I dunno, “Las Plagas”, or “Ay, Estas!” since it was completely different from any other RE game, but then where could the Resident Evil franchise go? I've accepted the new Resident Evil. I always thought Silent Hill made a scarier experience anyway.

I don't usually review the gameplay first, but I like to start with a game's finest point, and this is it. I'll detail how I feel about the story later on, but to make sense of any of this, allow me to summarize. Chris and Sheva are part of an international anti-Bioterrorism organization (BSAA). Together, they fight through Africa's plague-infested population to…get to the end of the game. This involves lots of shooting.

Your first time through, you have to play as Chris for whatever reason. Cooperative gameplay is the name of the game and is RE5's most distinguishing characteristic. In 1-player mode, you're given the freedom to use your partner in a limited number of ways. More than a few people tend to use them as a medical pack mule, stocking them with spare herbs and ammo with no weapons, then taking on the population of Kijuju on their own. This clearly wasn't the way the game was meant to be played, but I understand this solitary method; after all, who doesn't like to take on an army by themselves ala Doom? Some co-op moments are required, such as opening doors and climbing around, but Capcom mostly allows you to beat the game on your own. Also, when you lose all your health, your partner must revive you as you stumble around helplessly. Same goes for you, so keeping them healthy is a must.

Your partner's AI leaves something to be desired. You have two options for them: cover or attack. In Cover, they'll use their weakest weapon very sparingly, one bullet at a time, and stick close to you. In Attack, they play the game for you, going on ahead, plowing through the horde with perfect accuracy, picking up items and gold along the way. Exploiting the strengths of both commands is the way to go. If a battle is more than I can handle or I don‘t feel like picking up items, attack mode. If I'd like to actually play the game and its challenges, cover mode. This is the main reason I gave the game a 9 instead of 10.

It's preferable to use a human player, and this is where things get interesting. I'll go on record by saying this is the first online co-op game I've ever played. A lone wolf myself, this novel concept was a bit intimidating at first, but soon found that it adds a lot to the gameplay. Logistically, online co-op is nearly perfect. There's a host and a guest. The host has the option to limit his game to “Invite Only” or give players free reign to join at any time. She chooses the difficulty, friendly fire option, infinite ammo, which character to play as, and where to begin. When looking for a game, the guest can see all these options chosen in advance. It's quick and easy to join someone's game most of the time, but you have to wait for them to reach a checkpoint before you play, which can sometimes take minutes. Most people cancel by then. In the game, all the treasures and gold you find are duplicated and given to both parties. Unrealistic, but I'm very glad it was done this way; the Greed issue is less of a problem. You can exchange ammo and health, but not weapons, which is kinda lame. You have a limited number of commands during play, including Go, Wait, Come On, and Thanks. You can also commend them on their headshot if you press O right after it's done (“Nice Shot!”), but too often I just say, “Come on!” by pressing said button. Better command controls and more variety would have been nice, such as Cover Me, Sorry, or laughing. Maybe I've just played too much Oddworld.

It's an interesting experience to play with people all over the world. I got to see many different playing styles. I played with selfish loners who greedily went after all the ammo and only helped me when they had to, then I played with secretary-types who obediently followed me around, traded ammo and health and adapted to my style. The host can kick a guest out and continue playing with the AI until someone else joins, which is nice for those annoying types with the headsets. I wish the host could decline a guest from entering in the first place, but that wouldn't seem friendly, I suppose. Overall, online co-op adds enormous replay value and is fun to experience. Oh, and there's also a split screen mode for those who have actual friends, and it, too, is done quite well.

As for the actual gameplay, it's a blast. This is one of the most satisfying action games I've ever played. There's something very gratifying about popping the heads off your enemies. Maybe it's the mixture of the gory explosion and the crackling-wet sound that accompanies the animation, but this feature alone keeps me coming back to RE5 time after time. I think if I were able to shoot off limbs, I wouldn't be able to stop playing. I recall good times with The Punisher (PS2) and X-Men Origins (PS3) this way. The boss battles are also extremely satisfying when beaten. They all use the co-op feature in different ways to beat them most effectively. Maybe because I'm reveling in victory with someone else, but even after beating them a dozen times, I still jump up and shout crazy obscenities when a long battle is finally over.

The basic gameplay is consistent from start to finish, with one on-rails shooting chapter in the middle, but thanks to excellent level design and diverse challenges, boredom never surfaces. For awhile, you're going through the streets, taking on a few enemies at a time. Later, you're exploring the caves, with you or your partner aiming the lantern while the other shoots. There's something new and distinguished around every corner in RE5. You're allowed the freedom to take on challenges with whatever strategy works for you. I like to be the sniper, covering my partner while they scout ahead. I also always carry proximity bombs and plant them where I know an enemy will end up. The grenades are perfect. Easy to throw, powerful, satisfying. It's hard to get grenades right in video games, but RE5 doesn't have that problem. Most players seem to stick with the same couple of weapons, even though there are many to choose from. Not so many that it's overwhelming *cough* Metal Gear 4 *cough*. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses, meaning there are no worthless weapons, which is something I wish all games would pay more attention to.

Let me talk about the item system. Gone are the days of Menu Item Management, and I'm thrilled. Each character has 9 item slots. You can move any item to correspond to a directional button and quick select it by pressing its d-pad button. This makes it easy to switch weapons on the fly, which I do constantly to fit each situation. Between each chapter, you go to the Item Management screen, which is where you keep all your spare weapons, ammo, etc. Here, you can upgrade your weapons and buy stuff. The best thing about this system is that the game saves your things. This means you can go to any chapter, collect a bunch of ammo then put it in your stock. Same goes for money and treasures; it's all saved. I miss the creepy merchant, but this is way better.

As for ammunition, from what I've observed, the game gives you as much ammo as it thinks you need. By smashing crates, you will find ammo if you're low, and usually for weapons that you have in stock. Otherwise, you'll find money. No more empty crates!

If you've seen any footage or stills of RE5, you already know the graphics are outstanding. If you haven't, it really is a spectacle. The lighting is perfect, the sets and backgrounds the best I've ever seen, and the characters, both enemies and heroes, are all lifelike. You can see the sweat on Chris's forehead and the cracks in the Majini's skin from the plague. Many in-game animations were borrowed from RE4, which makes sense, plot-wise I suppose, but it reeks of laziness. A few additional animations are present, but I digress.

The sound effects are decent, but uninspired. Guns don't really sound like they should; exaggerated and tweaked in a studio, but not really worth complaining about. The music is bland, stock, and forgettable. There's one boss battle that it gets me pumped for, but otherwise it's the typical “scary music” you'd probably expect to hear. You'd think after so many games, there would be a soundtrack or style to tie it all together, like Silent Hill's guitar or Final Fantasy's end theme. I usually turn down the music from the menu and play my own. Still need it to be slightly audible, though, so I can tell when an area is clear, which is a big complaint. All the tension, suspense, and uncertainty of danger is taken away when the music stops. Is the area clear? No, I can still hear the music. How is that real!?

The voice acting is outstanding. I studied accents and dialects a few years ago and can say that Capcom captured the African dialect perfectly. The woman playing Sheva is particularly detailed in her performance and fits the character well. Even the tiniest details in her accent were attended to.

Design-wise, RE5 is a technical masterpiece. Virtually glitch-free, the only problem I had was with weak signal strength when playing online. There would be up to a half-second delay when shooting enemies and my partner would occasionally, briefly cut in and out. Otherwise, there aren't any glaring AI problems that weren't intentional and no unpleasant surprises.

This game is ridiculously addictive. Unless you've played it, you don't even know. I actually bought my best friend a PS3 for his birthday so that I could play this with him the way it was meant to be. I'm drinking from a Resident Evil 5 coffee mug and am considering getting on to play again. My game clock is at 95 hours over about 2 months. I may need help.

There's a lot to do once you've beaten the game. There are weapons to upgrade, emblems to find, features to unlock, and trophies to earn. The trophies are challenging, but doable, and most are fun to get, except maybe the Professional mode trophy. Pro mode is just what it is: for experts. There's no messing around. Upgrading weapons unlocks other weapons, some which are needed to earn trophies. Unlocking everything seemed daunting at first, but thanks to the diverse gameplay, I didn't notice.

The Mercenaries mode is back and better than ever. Killing enemies to earn points is fun and exciting, but to get good, you must plan your attack. You're rewarded with “points” that you can use to purchase infinite weapons and other extras for your saved game. The same stages used in Mercenaries are used in Versus Mode (DLC). In Versus mode, you compete against other players to achieve the most points in the given time limit. You can work alone or in teams to kill the other players in Survivors, or rack up points by killing monsters in Slayers. There's a lot of strategy involved if you want to get good at Versus, and you'll need to if you want the trophies rewarded for victory. Of all the DLC available, this one gives the most replay value for your buck.

The Story
It's no accident that I put this part of the review at the end. I feel it was an afterthought for Capcom, as well. They made the game, then had the story work around it. Not that the game needs it, but it's worth noting how awful the writing has continued to be in this series. It's gone from, “Look at those monsters!” to “Try not to get yourselves killed”; an improvement, but not by much. I can see that Capcom at least tried, giving Chris an attempt at a pseudo-philosophical voice-over at the beginning and end, as well as implementing the use of flashbacks. It's hard to stretch my believability enough to account for all the changes in scenery, but it's also hard to believe in a 100-bullet clip in a handgun and the existence of first aid sprays. I love how Las Plagas is so vague as to what it does to its victim, allowing developers to give them guns, mutate into hideous abominations, and affect animals, all without a chance for survival, so it's okay to take no prisoners.

Honestly though, I think the writing has improved, and thanks to the range of emotions the characters are capable of, the dialogue isn't as important. I can't commend Capcom enough on this. At one point, Josh, your teammate, runs into our heroes, a look of confusion and mania in his face. The player can imagine that he just went through something hellish without having to be told all of what happened.

However, some things could have used some explaining, like why Africa was infected by Las Plagas. I suppose Ada, having stole the sample from Leon at the end of RE4, can be blamed, but then she was working for Wesker. But still, why is she working for him? I also question why a certain evil character chooses a certain other character to be his bodyguard, and why she's suddenly so skilled at kicking. Best to ignore such questions and get back to the action.

It's over… No. I have to find my… umm…
RE5 pretty much wraps up the story, with no clues as to what's next. No one left to find or save. No biological sample whisked away. I really can't say what Resident Evil 6 will be about. Maybe little Sherry Birkin's grown up and made the Z-Virus, or Ada Wong actually gives some clues about her intentions. I'm sure they'll think of something, and I'll be there when it happens.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 09/01/10

Game Release: Resident Evil 5 (US, 03/13/09)

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